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October 19, 2022

How to Harness a “Jack-in-the-Box”

Forget the modern safe and secure car child seats. Back in the day, kids were just strapped down in the front seat if they were strapped down at all. Check this ad from 1963 for the Irvin Auto Safety Harness for “children 8 months to 6 years,” courtesy of CG Auto Publisher (and proud father) Tom Appel.

Speaking of Western Auto, the words “your jobber” and “promotional aids” in the last paragraph indicate that this ad appeared in a trade publication aimed at new-car dealers and auto parts-and-accessories stores. This may explain why no price is shown, though that might have been negotiable, depending on the size of a customer’s order.

Another clue to the target audience is the line about this product being “a must for your profitable Irvin Seat Belt Line,” indicating that the Irvin Air Chute Co. had expanded from making “parachutes and aerospace recovery systems” (whatever those were) to selling aftermarket seatbelts, meaning lap belts (the only type we had) to be installed after vehicle purchase.

Like any good promotional piece, this one provides helpful point-of-purchase pitches for a sales staff to use: “Easy on Parents,” “Easy on Child,” “Exclusive Scientific Design,” “Safer in Swerving Accidents.” That’s just as well, because car safety was not a big consumer concern back then. Ford Motor Company learned this the hard way by spending big to develop optional “Lifeguard Design” features—lap belts, padded dashboards, slightly less-dangerous deep-dish steering wheels—only to find that few buyers wanted them.

As for the Irvin harness, this might have been a pretty effective child restraint, given what was then known about minimizing the risk of injury and death for vehicle occupants. It was certainly better than nothing. On the other hand, the harnessed “Jack” can still move around so much—to the point of distracting Mom in the lower-right photo—and we all know how dangerous distracted driving is.


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